Archive | August, 2016

Morwrongco (Unpleasantries)

19 Aug

One guy in town offered “50 camels for Sammi.” Except it was only 25.  And I’m pretty sure he was kidding.

Traveling around the world sounds glamorous, but sometimes it isn’t.  Here are a few times I suffered in Morocco:

I pulled over on a dirt road, I’d hoped to get good rest.  Windows up, doors locked, I tucked myself into bed early.  An hour later, once it was well-dark, a car (the first one I’d seen in an hour) aggressively pulled up next to me, stopped, and 5 men jumped out, yelling in Arabic.
My heart was in my throat.
They surrounded my vehicle and I frantically turned the key to start the car (not easy as it was a stick shift and I was in my sleeping bag).  The men rapped on the glass, trying to get me to open my windows.
Definitely no.
I considered driving but they were blocking me in on all sides and I’d have had to hit one of them in order to continue.  We were in a stand-off. Tensions escalated and the blokes switched to French: “Police! Police!”

Were they or weren’t they?
On one hand, the car was unmarked and the dudes weren’t wearing uniforms.
On the other hand, I hadn’t (yet) run into serious trouble in Morocco.

They continued yelling and tried to open my door.  I took a deep breath and, without having very many options, took a chance and opened my window a crack.  With broken language, everyone talking at once, and a range of hand gestures I tried to make it clear that I would leave this area in order to talk to them more; I would follow them to a more populated spot.

They stared while I wiggled out of my sleeping bag, readying myself to drive. More chaos and general confusion but eventually the men got back inside their own vehicle and ten minutes later we all arrived in front of a cement building.  It was pitch black but at least there were other people milling about.  I opened my door immediately, wanting to stand and take some initiative.

Two men approached me.   They tried to speak English and I tried to comprehend.  One of the guys took out a notebook.  I shook my head no to what I thought he was asking, “I had not been drinking” and I did not have alcohol.  I started to relax as it seemed that these men really were police officers.

What was I doing on the side of the road?
Words and glances were exchanged between the men.
At their request, I grabbed my passport and followed them inside.  The others in the group joined and the 6 of us tried to communicate, asking and answering what seemed to be the same questions over and over again.
I responded with the Arabic word for yes.
We spoke in 3 different broken languages as the men transitioned from attacking me to becoming (oddly) paternal.  It seemed that they were worried.

They offered me some of their tagine; cous cous and yogurt (a traditional dish served on Fridays).  I accepted to show trust.

We ‘chatted’ for a couple of hours while I tried to stifle my yawns.  It was past my bed time but the police wanted to practice their English and the officers insisted I spend the night on a make-shift bed in their hallway.
“But what?  Why?”, I asked.

I tried to tell them that the only people who had actually given me any trouble were, in fact, them.
“Coyotes”, they responded.
“Huh?”  I was bewildered.  “My windows were up and my doors were locked. Could coyotes could have gotten inside?”
The police shook their heads in confusion.
Back and forth we went until I resigned and agreed to lay down. In the morning, after a terrible night’s sleep in the main quarters of a rural Moroccan police station, we all ate breakfast together and I politely excused myself to continue my journey solo.


Does this look like a police station??


Not friendly to a diet: Bread, honey, olive, and argon oil.


Looks scarier than it was. This was a hitchhiker who definitely needed a ride.


A hitchhiker up close. Can you smell our BO from there?

Two different times, in two different towns, I was relaxing at ‘home’ during daylight hours when a man noticed that I was alone in my vehicle and circled back around.  Both times, as the man approached, I maintained eye contact and sounded the alarm by pressing relentlessly on the horn. It took a physical shove (from me) but thankfully both bad men left without too much of a scuffle.

And then, unfortunately, once I reached south Morocco things got even lonelier.  There was a scam involving fake, broken down cars whose owners robbed do-gooders, and which meant that I could no longer stop to help people on the side of the road which was terrible because: 1) Helping people felt nice, 2) it was a great way to make friends, and 3) it was rotten to be in full-time defense mode.

I was in poor spirits. Ducks threw bread at me and dogs offered me their bones.


At least the scenery was still beautiful.  This gorgeous city was called Ait Baha.


A gentleman: This young man publicly defended my word when a crippled old guy touched me inappropriately (by Moroccan standards).


So. Much. Pain.
I needed to leave the comfort of my car to brave the winds throughout the day and throughout the night.  I got a nosebleed from stress and I wasn’t getting any better.  It was obvious (to me) what I had — a UTI — and I desperately needed to get treated.

I googled directions to a Western-style hospital near Marrakesh, a notoriously chaotic city with a “must-see” reputation that I had been wanting to visit.   When I got to the clinic I explained what had happened.  I’m not sure if the nurses couldn’t understand me (likely) or if they were simply embarrassed.  Premarital sex is taboo in this Muslim country and I tried to explain “it’s not that, I’m merely a grunge muffin. Please help!”  They shook their heads and I was sent to 3 different hospitals without receiving treatment.  I was miserable and suffering.  Every hour dragged on and I made the tough decision to avoid any more “must-see” spots like the medina of Marrakesh, where there would undoubtedly be attention and harassment.  I felt broken.  Instead, I choose to drive myself towards Casablanca, my impending trans-Atlantic trip, doctors who spoke English, and the miracle of cranberries.


My final night was pathetic, I was emotionally and physically exhausted.  Oh a whim I pulled my ‘home’ into a boutique hotel called Las Kasbah des Sables, jonesing for a hot meal and a toilet.  The staff was friendly and there was silverware on the table!  I met the owner, socialized, and used the bathroom every couple of minutes.  I planned on requesting to sleep in their rocky parking lot when Abdou Abdel offered to take me on a tour of his hotel.  It was gorgeous.  I ooohed and ahhed and when Abdou offered to comp me his favourite room tears welled up in my eyes.  I gratefully accepted and slept for a few blissful hours before I headed to the airport.  A private shower, bath, hot water, air conditioner, and a bed with blankets: If you’re reading this Abdou Abdel, thank you again!



For now, my final meal in Morocco.  Inchallah.

As I sat on (what seemed to be) an extra long flight to Pennsylvania, the greatest country on earth, I was grateful to be with American Airlines because, well, America. And within 12 hours of touching down in Pittsburgh, PA my UTI was treated and I felt worlds better.  What a relief!  I promised myself I wasn’t going to take sleeping soundly for granted ever again.

I shared containers of olives that had made it through customs and soft desert sand that I had piled into my backpack with friends.  I rested comfortably in my own bed — at least for a short while.  Because for me, adventure is part of my professional life and months before I landed I had already booked my upcoming trip.  A quick two days later my next flight was taking off.

Central America, here we come!


The Moroccan Desert

9 Aug

I never knew until the moment I arrived what a dream of mine the desert was:
360 degree views, instant love, and a desire to stay — Undoubtedly, the Sahara Desert was an adventure of a lifetime.


A wonderful, magical place.


M’Hamid, my home for 2 weeks.

Desert life was spectacular — any minute I thought I was going to happen upon Aladdin.  Before I’d arrived I had contacted a nomadic family via the domain  It was my first time using that website and it won’t be my last.  For a couple of weeks worth of work I had a place to stay, food to eat, and new friends in the Sahara.


This man was born into the desert, directly into the sand.

Iaich, the patriarch of the family (pictured above), wore a practical garment everyday.  Open on the sides it was both breezy and symbolized the openness of nomads, his people.  Extra large and blue, it was a physical representation of the African sky.  The head wrap, which I tried on but couldn’t master, kept both flies and sand at bay.


Fresh bread


Abidine, Iaich’s nephew, taught me how to cook in a Moroccan clay pot called tagine.


Mint tea with just a hint of sugar.  Kidding…it’s drowning in it.



The Sand
When the sun became oppressive I’d bury my toes and fingers into the shallow, refreshing layers — luxuriate — and extradite cool grains to the surface.  I could give myself goosebumps by releasing a dry, steady stream of cinnamon sugar grains onto my shoulders. It was hedonistic.

The sand’s touch was soft, feminine, and so clean we used it to “wash” the dishes.  I desired to take this feeling — this sand — with me forever so I funneled six liters of earth into empty water bottles, piled the heft into my backpack, and checked it on the airplane.  I now keep it in my room to remind myself of both the simple pleasures and for a portable gym.


I had never felt anything like this sand.


I was immersed in it.



Everyday was meditative.

In the mornings there were sand storms.  We would all rush to take cover inside of the cool structures and tents.  It was safe.  Like shelter from a rainstorm except better because it was novel. I loved it.

The family I volunteered with owned a guest house and I was involved in the daily sweeping of sand, cleaning of bathrooms, watering the trees, and interacting with paying customers.


I slept in my own private clay building.



At night there was music and home-made date liquor which was clear and strong.

Everything in M’hamid was small and family run, no big hotels.   It was safe, the people were trustworthy and kind, and the sand, as you know, was spectacular.   I spent my time in this heaven helping, learning, fostering friendships, exploring, and playing.  One evenining we had a Laughter Yoga Session (and from then on I called it the “Sahahahahara”) —  It might have been the best one I’ve ever had, Iaich has an open heart ❤


To work-out we’d go sand boarding.

And then there were the camels. Er, dromedaries. A one hump versus two nomenclature.


A herd of dromedaries.  Ya heard?


Stud muffin! Close up you’d hear  1. Water-sloshing (in their hump).  2. Persistent buzzing from flies.


This guy loves peanuts.

Dromedary facts:
They’re smart and loyal.
They know not to have sex with family members.
And if a mother passes a water source while she is pregnant the information (where that water source is located) is passed down inside her womb and the new-born baby can then find that water.


That ‘Come pet me’ look.


That ‘I’ll pet you’ look.




Our hearts are the same.

My time in the desert was even better than I’m able to convey.
Alhamdulillah, give thanks to G-d,


Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river in the desert

A Moroccan Marriage

8 Aug


I don’t know if you remember, it has been awhile, but a guy from the Casablanca Budget (yes, the car-rental agency), Zahir, invited me to be his date for a wedding in Morroco!  I said YES immediately and then, like every girl everywhere, started stressing about my outfit. What was I going to wear? I knew what not to wear: White.


My everyday djellaba.

Luckily for me, a few days before the wedding I met Hicham, a successful English speaking engineer who had quit in order to find happiness and start a surf school. The day I met him, he was patiently teaching a man in his 50’s how to catch a wave.  And then the last time we saw each other?  Hicham pretended to be a camel. Naturally, the two of us hit it off.

I told him about the upcoming wedding and how I didn’t “have the proper attire.”  He was actively helpful and over the course of our playful days together we found a “store”, 30 kilometers away, that rented djellabas.  Imagine that “store”:  Someones living room, with no mirrors or fitting rooms, and my only translator left every time I tried on something new.  The outfits weren’t dresses that I was familiar with either, they were complicated, traditional dresses which I’d never worn before that required careful instruction.  I listened in Arabic. Hicham went with me to translate (when he didn’t have to leave the room) and assist as the shop-girls put me all-together. The process took days and I still feel grateful. If you make it to Agadir, Morocco, I can not recommend his friendship enough.

Several of the djellabas I tried on, these photos acted as my reflection:IMG_0558_2.jpg


Right vibe, wrong colour.


Winner winner, chicken dinner.

On the day of the wedding Zahir picked me up at a different Budget, 6 hours from where we met (don’t invite me somewhere unless you mean it).  I was nervous and excited, of course, since Zahir was the only person I (sort-of) knew and I’d never before been to a Muslim wedding.  I smiled politely as we got out of the car and Zahir greeted the first person we saw — a literal midget in a tuxedo.  The two of them spoke together in Arabic.


‘mi and the best man.

Uh oh, Zahir did not look happy.
After a couple of minutes he took me to the side and translated: This was a mixed wedding, Berber and Arabic.  And they were going to go with the more traditional style, Berber, for the ceremony “which means that the boys will be completely separate from the girls.”
GASP FACE.  My eyebrows shot up. Shut up, eyebrows. “Um, so we’re not going to be able to sit next to each other?”
“No. We won’t be able to see each other.”
“For how long?”
“For the whole thing.”
“How long is the whole thing?”
“Six hours.”
Eyebrows, keep it down.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was going to be like this before I invited you.”

And that was how I found myself alone during a 6 hour religious ceremony, alcohol-free, all in Arabic, with no one who spoke English, on a strange woman’s wedding day.

If you’re reading this I’d like to remind you that you’re on my side of the story.  These seemed like nice people. I fundamentally did not want to be disrespectful.  I tried to make myself as small and inconspicuous as possible (while documenting everything).


The bride and groom


Yours truly…looking weirdly happy while inadvertently wearing the same colour as the bride :/

No one who spoke English was with me when I first saw the bride.  But I think AHHHHHHHHH!! is a universal facial expression.   The same coloured dress as the bride?!??  Crushed-green-velvet-twins??


Did the women helping me get ready not understand that I was merely attending a wedding? Did they think instead that I was the one who was getting married??

My cheeks stayed bright red until the wife-to-be changed outfits (five different coloured djellabas throughout the night). *Gigantic sigh of relief.* I hadn’t committed a non-verbal faux pas.


When I rented my outfit the women told me (through Hicham) that I didn’t have to wear a head wrap.  Yay!


Bathroom selfies are universal.


Honored to be there.

I did my best to show the utmost admiration without understanding a word of what was going on.  Zahir was in another room with the men, not seeing or hearing the things I saw, yet tried to answer my confused questions via text.  “Were those the vows?  Did anyone object?  When will they kiss?” My mind worked overtime trying to make sense of it all.


A woman drew henna on my foot.

I’m assuming these songs are the classics.

The ‘rhythmic clapping’ makes me think that I was Arabic in another life.


Chicken was served at 11:30pm.  I guess a late dinner means a long marriage.

Sitting across from me was the mother-of-the-bride (er, I think) who was also wearing crushed green velvet. #shegetsit

Before we ate, a server came around and we washed our hands with water poured from a tea kettle.  The main dish was in the center of the table without plates, silverware, or napkins.  All hands in! It was awesome.  And made me think that I myself may end up having a Berber wedding (but with alcohol and the men and women together).


Little cuties.

IMG_0626_2.jpgAt 4am, the festivities abruptly ended.  The bride and groom exited to get in their car and the entire party followed.  Before a quarter of us were out of the banquet-hall door, staff were stacking chairs.  Time.To.Go. I was ecstatic to meet back up with Zahir.   The boys and I piled into vehicles and joined a convoy pursuing the bride and groom to their hotel, BLASTING car horns the entire way. It was late and I was too tired to ask questions.


By the time I got back “home” the sun was coming up — which meant not much sleep.



The Beauty and the Sleep Deprived


A couple of hours later I had my first (of several) run-ins with the police: I had gone to exchange money and when I came back out my car was gone.  My home!  I called Zahir who immediately showed up with the midget from last night.  It felt like The Hangover except none of us were hungover.  Everything I owned was inside of that vehicle!   The three of us drove all over town trying to locate it, talking to everyone.  The pants I was wearing couldn’t take the pressure of bribing police officers and they split wide open — which would have been hilarious except that I was in a conservative, Muslim country with no access to a change of clothes. And so I walked with a conspicuous limp, trying to hide my situation, as the authorities continued to give us the run around.  There was so much red tape that it took us almost 7 hours to retrieve my car from the impound.  Still unclear about who I paid off to get it back.

I was relieved, put on different trousers, and bought the rescue crew a hot lamb tagine with olives, tomatoes, and cold Coca-Colas.



Soon after dinner I returned my rented djellaba, left Agadir, and headed into the mountains.


Winding roads that eventually led to snow.


Morning views.

Being invited to that wedding was a blessing, I felt overwhelmingly fortuitous.  Still do.
More’rockin posts to come, a lot happened.
Saving room for desert,